“All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet – it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” – Joss Whedon
The idea that I discussed last week – that a storyteller’s purpose is to give questions, not answers – rankles some people, most of whom are storytellers who regularly ignore this purpose, thinking themselves wiser than their audience. My post from last week does require some caveats, however. Once we accept the purpose of the storyteller, there is a second truth we must embrace: Your voice matters. It may not be your place to tell the audience what to think, but it is your job to tell a story, and one that is ultimately meaningful.
Your storytelling voice matters, and sometimes it matters in ways you never expected.
Now, I know the quote that I used this week is from a storyteller who regularly violates the purpose of storytelling. No one knows better than I the appalling number of times Joss Whedon has downright browbeaten his audience with opinion, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when he desists from forcing a specific agenda, he is a peerless storyteller. And the discernment shown in the above quote is striking.
The first part of my point is that your voice matters, and that’s important to grasp before we move on to the next half. Your artistic voice matters. I may repeat it a thousand times in this post, but it’s an important truth to embrace as a lifelong artist. If you don’t embrace it, you won’t be a storyteller, plain and simple. You’ll give up. You’ll stop telling stories. If you believe you’re shouting into the void, how long do you think you’ll sit around listening to your own echo? Not long for some. Years for others. But, if you don’t embrace the idea that your art has unique value, you will eventually quit. Embrace this truth. You’ve got a voice, you’ve got questions to give the world, and only you can deliver them the way you do.
If you accept that, we can move on to my second point, summarized by Whedon as “interpretations the author did not intend.” Often, your work will become something you never planned for it to be. One of the greatest facts about this world is that people are different. They interpret life and experience and art in a way distinctive to themselves. You don’t always get to choose how your art affects people, and that’s okay! After all, you may be the god of your stories, but that doesn’t make you the God of this one. Your only duty is to tell stories to the best of your ability, putting 110% of your work and effort into each one. And don’t apologize for them! Never apologize for your art, whether it is received poorly because it is interpreted as you intended or not. It’s your art, and just as you’ve no call to force your audience to think as you do, they’ve no call to silence your voice. Tell your stories – without preaching, without bowing to the whims of social critics – and tell them well. Tell them with care and with meaning and with purpose, but don’t fret over interpretation. Sometimes people need something specific from a story, and yours provides it. Life influences people to equate what they see in art with their experiences, and you can’t control that. So don’t try to!
Storytelling, like life, isn’t about having it all together or being in control. It’s about doing the best we can, and trusting that something larger than ourselves will handle the rest.
Tell your stories, because your voice matters! But relinquish control, because worthy art is always bigger than the person who made it.